As actors, we’re always on the hunt for the perfect monologue. But have you ever considered writing your own monologue, instead? In the last 12 years, I’ve written countless short films and served as a writing advisor on several student and independent feature films. Last year, I released a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories. Recently, I created a monologue based on one of the stories within that collection, “The Runners.” Here’s an excerpt:
“...I dream sometimes, about him. Sometimes it’s exactly as it happened, only I know it’s coming, but I can’t do anything to stop it. Like my mind has lost the ability to communicate and I’m no better than a statue during a Taking. Other times, I can change the outcome, I die in his place, or we die together. I’ve never been able to make it so we both survive…”
Writing this monologue reminded me of a few important ingredients that are necessary for a good monologue—and what you should keep in mind if you’re wondering how to write a monologue of your own.
1. Start by figuring out your character’s objective
Every story and scene should have a beginning, middle, and end. If your monologue is missing any of these elements, people will notice—even if they can’t put their finger on what’s wrong. Many acting classes will tell you to look for the objective in every scene and the super-objective within the entire script. A monologue should have an objective, too. What does your character want? Who are they talking to? What do they hope to achieve?
With the monologue above, I realized I used too much exposition in the beginning and spent less time on the immediateness of what was happening right then. I’d forgotten to give the character an objective for the scene. As soon as I realized this, I cut what I could so it would flow better and have a clearer objective.
2. Use improv to avoid writer’s block
If you’re stuck on what to write—or just intimidated by the blank page!—rely on your improv skills. Some of the best lines in films have come from an actor improvising. It can help you write a monologue, too. Think of a setting and a character. Using the questions above, record yourself improvising it and then write it out. As you workshop the monologue, you may find different lines to add and begin to see which ones to get rid of, too. I did this with the one above. Yes, I used a character I already had, but I placed the situation after the events of the short story and created a new setting and improvised the lines.
3. Add layers to your monologue
Think subtext and conflict. Obstacles. The more emotional layers you add, the more fun you’ll have workshopping the monologue—and the richer it’ll be for those who watch it. This was the area I needed to work on most after I’d improvised and written my monologue.
One final note: It’s not always appropriate to write a monologue for an audition. Make sure that the audition detail doesn’t ask you to pick a specific style. Even then, avoid writing a monologue using the character you’re auditioning for. As a casting director, I’ve been in a few auditions where this happened. At first, I was impressed with their initiative—but eventually realized it was counterproductive for their audition. Instead of paying attention to their acting, my focus shifted to how they’d incorrectly interpreted the character.
Overall, have fun! Acting is about play. If you don’t feel like something is working, you have the freedom to change it until it rings true. Whatever you write and act, please be kind to yourself during the creative process. Be your own biggest fan.
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